Bishop Challenges Priest's Last Wishes
Chancellor of Arlington Diocese Who Killed Himself Asked for Cremation, No Wake

By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post
August 13, 1992

Monsignor William T. Reinecke, longtime chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington, killed himself with a shotgun Tuesday, leaving behind instructions to forgo a wake and to cremate his body.

He always was an efficient person and did things with a minimum of fuss, his younger brother, Patrick, who found the body, said yesterday. "He had specific requests, and they should be followed."

But William Reinecke's boss, Bishop John R. Keating, believes the priest of 27 years should be honored with a Christian wake -- tentatively scheduled for tonight -- and a funeral Mass tomorrow. And he would prefer that the body not be cremated.

"Monsignor was not dust to us," said the bishop's spokesman, the Rev. Curtis Clark. "The church's earnest desire is to celebrate Monsignor Reinecke in a manner that expresses what we think of him and not what he may have thought of himself in the final days of his life."

Years ago the Catholic Church would not have held full services for someone who had committed suicide, Clark said, but that has changed. He said he expects hundreds of people will want to come to mourn the tall, thin priest who was a familiar figure in Catholic circles in Virginia.

Reinecke, 53, held the position of chancellor for 13 years, a chief executive officer second to the bishop in charge of the diocese's 56 parishes and 224,000 parishioners. At the time of his death, he also was pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church, a large and influential parish. Before that, he served at St. Ambrose in Annandale.

Several friends suggested yesterday that he had stretched himself too thin. "When you ask a man to do two full-time jobs, it's a test of durability," Barbara Charron said. "Maybe he got tired and worn out."

A St. James parishioner questioned yesterday whether he and others at the church had contributed to Reinecke's stress.

Reinecke was "an older-style cleric," Michael Gick said. "The king of his kingdom." His management style didn't sit well with some parishioners who recently were "very bitter, very outspoken" in their opposition. "A lot of us are going to feel rather guilty about this, [about] adding boulders to his weight," Gick said.

Gick and others said they had noticed for several weeks that Reinecke was depressed. One priest, who asked not to be identified, said Reinecke would make macabre statements, and that officials in the chancery began to worry about him.

On Monday, he checked into Holy Cross Abbey, a retreat house for priests in Berryville, Va., west of Loudoun County. That same day, according to his brother, he bought a Mossberg shotgun from a gun shop in Warrenton.

Tuesday morning, William Reinecke ate breakfast with other priests and then left, saying he would return for supper. At about that time, Patrick Reinecke, a firefighter in Williamsburg, finished his shift and drove to the abbey. He had been called during the weekend about his brother's condition by a mutual friend.

After waiting for several hours at the abbey, Patrick Reinecke began walking around the grounds and spotted a car parked on a narrow road. He peered in the windows and noticed two envelopes marked in his brother's handwriting.

A few paces away, he found the shotgun and the body of his brother lying in a field. Several hours later, another brother, Ralph, looked among some belongings William Reinecke had delivered a few days before and found instructions on what should happen after he died.

Ralph Reinecke took the instructions to the chancery, where the bishop's representatives tried to talk him into agreeing to the wake and funeral. Meanwhile, a release went out to St. James parishioners and others detailing ceremonies the Reineckes had not agreed to. Clark, the bishop's spokesman, said the information was "prematurely disseminated" and caused suffering that "is deeply regretted." Another meeting between church officials and the family is scheduled for today, he said.


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